How this Tanzanian beauty queen started her own furniture business

Jacqueline Ntuyabaliwe

Jacqueline Ntuyabaliwe is a 38-year-old former Tanzanian beauty queen (Miss Tanzania) and musician. More recently, she has achieved success as an entrepreneur.

Ntuyabaliwe is the founder of Molocaho, a Tanzanian furniture manufacturing company, which designs and manufactures quality made-to-order furniture, furnishings, designer fabrics, lighting, decor, garden furniture and rugs.

All Molocaho’s products are manufactured using locally-sourced, sustainable materials. Molacaho has a factory in the heart of Dar es Salaam as well as a showroom. The company employs more than 30 Tanzanians, and is looking to start exporting its pieces to Europe.

We caught up with Ntuyabaliwe recently to chronicle her transition from musician and beauty queen to furniture entrepreneur. She also told us her plans for Molocaho in the near future.

Briefly walk me through your journey from musician to beauty queen to furniture maker.

Music was one of my childhood dreams, so when I got the opportunity to join a famous Tanzanian band I was very excited. That’s how my musical career begun. I went on to record two albums during the period of around eight years.

Becoming a beauty queen was an exciting experience, as a young girl it’s always a dream come true to be crowned. During my reign I learned a lot about my country, made some friends and had the opportunity of representing Tanzania to the Miss World contest.

As a child I used to love to draw, and as I grew older I discovered that I had a special appreciation for interior design and that’s what made me study interior design. Making furniture came after I had launched my interior design company. Furniture designing begun partly because I saw an opportunity and also because I found designing very challenging but the reward of seeing the final work is well worth it.

Did you undertake formal training in college or within the industry, or did you find your way into crafts via a different route?

I studied interior design and so I had an idea about making furniture.

What would you say are your main influences when conceiving a piece of work?

My main influence, especially with this first collection, has been nature. There’s so many colours, shapes and forms that I found to be very interesting and had an influence on my designs. I have a piece that was inspired by the ocean waves, for example, and another inspired by a baobab tree.

What would you most like to make that you haven’t so far?

I’m currently sketching up some ideas for a couture furniture collection which I’m very excited about. Other than that I would like to make a bigger selection of furniture, and spoil our clients with more options to choose from.

How do you choose your materials, and what type of materials do you prefer to use?

I use a lot of wood, but I also use printed fabric which I often print in-house. The quality of the materials we use is very important so I make sure that we source the best available materials.

Walk me through the process

First I come up with ideas, which I usually sketch. I walk around with a small sketchbook which I fill with all my ideas. Then I work on the drawings before consulting with my design team together with the carpenters to see how the design can be implemented.

Afterwards I sit down with my design team and work out the possibilities, possible materials and finishes. When all that is done, then the design goes for production. I always make sure that each and every piece is carefully examined for quality control before it goes out and I try to participate in the check myself most if the time. Good finish and craftsmanship is extremely important to me.

If we are working on a special order for a customer who wants customised design then we have a chat to discuss the options which are usually in terms of sizes and fabric options before we proceed to production.

What part of the process excites you the most?

Two parts of the process excites me, first when the idea comes to my head and then when the piece is done.

What are your biggest challenges to doing business in Tanzania?

Starting a new business is always a challenge because there’s so much at stake and many lessons to be learned along the way but I believe that it’s the challenges that pushes us to work harder at our dreams.

Where do you see Molocaho in the next 5 years?

My dream is build a global brand that will last for many years to come. I see Molocaho being a successful and globally recognised brand, with the pieces being exhibited alongside other world-renowned beautiful furniture brands and our pieces being sold all around the world.